Statue outside of hotel.
Finally back from Kiev! I just returned to Granada (the Spanish city where I am studying for a semester), and thought this would be a good opportunity to recount the last day of the conference, as well as some thoughts I had following the entire experience.
As I mentioned in my previous entry, today was chock-full of activities, and the sessions were packed because this was the first day that ATA and YATA had combined meetings. The morning began with a panel discussion regarding what approach NATO should take regarding the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan. The panel was very similar to the discussion I sat in on during the first day with YATA, but this time the focus was on the strategic direction of international actors rather than how communication affects political interaction both between Afghanistan and other countries and within Afghanistan itself. Among the panelists were Mr. Mohammad Tariq Ismati, the Executive Director for the National Solidarity Programme of Afghanistan who spoke at the YATA panel earlier, and Ms. Larissa Blavatska, the Deputy Head of Mission of Canadian Embassy, who spoke about the Canadian interests and efforts in Afghanistan. I found both speakers to be very engaging, especially in light of recent US military involvement in Afghanistan. Delegates from other countries seemed to take a keen interest as well, and though discussion often circled back to military activity in Afghanistan and the surrounding region by NATO members, the entire delegation seemed to recognize the larger issue at hand: the de-stabilitzing effect of Al-Qaeda activity and its implications on global security. One other interesting facet was the outpour of sympathy for those killed in the attack oustide the Indian embassy in Kabul. Nearly every speaker or person who asked a question gave their condolences to those killed before or after they made their point, a unified sentiment amongst all the differing viewpoints.
Next, I attended a panel on Energy and Financial Security in the Wider Black Sea Area, moderated by the President of the Greek Association for Atlantic and European Cooperation, Mr. Theodossis Georgiou. The key issue during this panel was European dependency on Russian gas and oil, which apparently is a very controversial issue. Russia exports these resources through pipelines that run throughout the Black Sea region, sending a third of their supply abroad. According to the panelists, this presents several problems: dependency on Russian gas and oil, environmental hazards, and the unregulated market of energy trading, which is only leading to politicization of what needs to be a cooperative effort. Other topics discussed included the future of renewable energy though the use of wind turbines and solar panels and how energy policy should be integrated in NATO’s New Strategic Concept. The discussion got very heated during the question and answer session, and even though I didn’t have extensive knowledge of the region, it was evident that many of the tensions that arose were based on historical conflict between different states.
The conference concluded with some closing remarks by Dr. Karl Lamers, the ATA President, and a summary of the topics discussed by Ms. Larissa Blavatska, who spoke during the Afghanistan panel. Following the conclusion, we were treated with a very nice dinner at the restaraunt on the second floor of the hotel, complete with performances of traditional Ukranian song and dance.
Looking back on the conference, it was an incredibly rewarding experience. I often felt humbled to be involved in a discussion with such distinguised speakers, but at the same time felt very welcomed and encouraged to speak. Being from the United States gave me an interesting perspective for discussion, and was often time a great way to start conversation, especially during the final day, when everyone at the conference was speaking about President Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize. Though there was no official recognition of the award, it was the talk of the town (or rather conference). I encountered a variety of opinions, ranging from the appreciative (“He has changed the international paradigm”) to the outraged (“That was literally the worst choice they could’ve made”). I still felt proud to be from the United States, but it was always a dicey matter bringing up Obama, though I made a conscious effort to slip it in to casual conversation, even when it was completely unwarranted.
"Have you tried the mushroom dip?"
"No, but did you hear Barack Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize?"
Lastly, I would like to thank Grinnell College, Lynn Stafford, Professor Bob Grey, and Professor David Harrison for their assistance and generosity in helping me attend this trip, as I would otherwise have not had such a fantastic opportunity. I hope you have enjoyed reading this blog and feel free to contact me with any questions or comments you might have at firstname.lastname@example.org. Adios!
Though this may be too simplistic, I can sum up my experience at YATA after the second day in one word: amazing. Despite the fact that the conference is being conducted in English, which is overwhelmingly the most common language spoken at the conference (a very big relief), there is a multitude of cultural diversity here, as the delegates from ATA and YATA hail from all over the world. While meeting people from all over the world is enjoyable on a personal level, the greatest benefit comes from hearing issues in international relations discussed from what is undoubtedly an international perspective. Often, information about these topics in the United States is limited by the fact that we only have one view on the issue at hand, and hearing participants from 30-odd countries fiercely discuss a topic such as NATO expansion has broadened my viewpoint tremendously.
This will probably be a shorter post, since the activities today were primarily aimed at completing legislative tasks, such as electing new leadership in YATA/ATA and defining what direction the assemblies should take in the future. Though these activities were interesting, it was difficult to come in as an outsider and fully understand how YATA functions, but I quickly caught on to the process. After these initial meetings, we moved halls into a room set up for a video conference with students from Moscow State University regarding Russian membership in NATO. Though chock full of technical difficulties, mainly the microphone cutting out mid-speech (which ended up being very funny, since the mic would inadvertently cut out for minutes at a time, leaving the Moscow participant trying to mime out his or her points), the presentation was interesting and informal enough that it was very comfortable to speak.
Following this presentation, we headed across the street to the President Hotel to hear a panel of speakers give opening remarks to the conference, including a video message from the Ukranian President, who welcomed us into his country. The President of ATA, Dr. Karl Lamers, also gave a particularly impassioned speech, optimistically encouraging members of the conference to continue to actively pursue causes which promote the values set out by NATO- namely democracy, freedom, and rule of law.
After this speech, the entire delegation of YATA/ATA were invited to the residence of the United States Ambassador to Ukraine for a very nice reception. The sheer number of people in the house was staggering, and everyone I spoke to was very welcoming and friendly, despite the fact that I was obviously much less accomplished, poorly dressed (for the record, poorly is a relative term in this context) American student, and people took a genuine interest in what I had to say or wanted to discuss.
To bring things back full circle, all in all it was an amazing day. According to several participants who have taken part in past conferences, however, tomorrow the conference “truly begins,” as the whole day is panel discussions of various issues, so I can only imagine what I will come away with tomorrow. In total, it ends up being five hours of discussion, and I’m sure the combination of my interest in the issues at hand and the Ukrainian propensity to down copious amounts of espresso will prove to be enough to handle the task.
Welcome! For the next few days, I will be blogging about my experiences in Kiev, where I will be attending the 55th General Assembly of the Atlantic Treaty Association. Within the Atlantic Treaty Association, there is a component called the Youth Atlantic Treaty Association (YATA), a group of students, professors, and other assorted young people gatherd to discuss many international relations issues. I am one of fifteen United States citizens at the conference, but other participants hail from all parts of the globe, and represent countries that are both members and non-members of NATO.
To begin, I’d have to start with arriving in Kiev. Kiev’s airport, Borispol, is located on the outskirts of the city, and is comparable in size to the Des Moines International Airport despite the fact the population of Kiev hovers around 3-4 million people, making it much larger than Des Moines. That being said, the similarity in size may be the only thing Des Moines International Airport and Borispol Airport have in common. Upon getting off the plane, my nostrils were “greeted” with the smell of burning plastic and smog, and I was greeted personally by a welcome party of ardent, non-English-speaking taxi drivers that engulfed me as soon as I left the arrival gate. After turning down 32 different drivers for rides to the city, I met my contact from the ATA and boarded a shuttle to the Hotel Rus, where all the delegates are going to be housed for the conference.
After recounting my story to a couple of the Ukranian volunteers with the conference, they said this was all but rare. “If the airport was what Kiev was really like, there would be nobody who would visit.” They were definitely correct. Upon arriving in the hotel, which is located in the heart of downtown Kiev, I couldn’t have been happier. The city is amazingly pretty and very developed. There are rows after rows of shops and flats in the commercial district, and the view from my window allowed me to take it all in. Complementing this area is the incredibly ornate architecture, wide array of historical sites (churches, government buildings, etc.), and relatively low prices, all of which make Kiev a sight to behold.
After exploring the city, the conference began this afternoon with introductory remarks by the YATA President Guiseppe Belardetti, a researcher with the Italian Atlantic Committee, who emphasized the importance of youth involvement in international affairs and explained the program. Following the opening remarks, the first session began, which was entitled “Atlanticism and New Media: Communication Challenges in the XXI Century.” The panel was split into two parts; the first was focused on a variety of topics related to journalism’s relation to NATO and other international organizations, while the second narrowed the focus solely to the impact of communication in the politics of Afghanistan and Central Asia.
During the first panel, the speakers commented on an incredibly wide variety of issues, from this the problems arising from Iran’s censorship of news reports during the riots this summer to the changing landscape of communication (especially in light of new social networking sites) to an assesment of the meaning of security in a cross-cultural context. One speaker in particular, a reporter named Sabina Castelfranco, was particularly interesting, as she had done reporting for both Al-Jazeera English and CBS, two news outlets that are polar opposites. The second panel was much more focused, and pertained specifically to communication in Afghanistan. The panel was primarily led by Mohammed Ismati, the Head of Outreach Countries Section of NATO’s Public Diplomacy Division (a very long title), who reflected on the two streams of communication in Afghanistan: intra-Afghani communication between local villages and the central government and between Afghanistan and the outside world.
Following the panels, we boarded a bus and had a dinner reception at European University in Kiev, a nice treat for everyone at the conference. It was definitely a long day, but it has been a very rewarding experience so far, and things are only looking up from here.